One summer, when I must have been about nine or ten years old, my two cousins and I were left to our own devices on the farm for part of an afternoon. My younger cousin Laura and I had already put ourselves through an abandoned Monopoly marathon, we had been told to STAY AWAY FROM THE CAT AND HER KITTENS ALREADY, and my aunt had already made us pull every last chickweed from along the walkway, so we were doing that long, hot summer afternoon thing where you lay about on beds while swinging your legs in the air and sigh about having nothing to do.
My mind wandered to that man in the city who spent all summer every summer walking around in a full-body snowsuit with the hood pulled up. I had last seen him when my mother and I drove past the neighbourhood he ambled through every day. Despite his getup, he appeared to be invisible on the sidewalk. No one seemed to take any notice of him aside from the few who stepped away to avoid the mittens that swung out from the cuffs at his wrists.
Why is he wearing a snowsuit, Mom? I asked from the back seat of the car. It's July. Does he think it's snowing out?
He might not be crazy, Schmutzie, she answered absently. He might be using that snowsuit to insulate him from the heat. Insulation keeps things cool as well as warm.
Now I knew exactly what Laura and I were going to do with our afternoon. I asked where her family had put away all their winter gear. She showed me the boxes, and I started making two piles of the layers we would need, one for each of us.
We're going to do a scientific experiment, I said. I proceeded to explain to her all about the crazy man in the city and how my mother said insulation worked while I helped her pile on four pairs of socks, three sweaters, a winter coat, two pairs of mittens, a toque, and two scarves. Then I dressed myself, as well.
Now what? she asked.
We go outside to test our theory, I said, and I led us out the front door into the hot, summer day. The thermometer says it's 31°C!
Why are we doing this again? Laura's voice was muffled under the pile of wool.
We are going to prove that you will stay cooler in more clothes, not less, I said.
Laura looked skeptical at everything I said, at least from what I could see of her between her toque and scarves. I think she was in it out of pure boredom, but I was seriously excited about the experiment. Looking back, I think my thought processes were already deranged at that point from putting on so many layers in a house without air-conditioning on such a hot day, but I had it in my head that Laura and I were potentially going to make history. We were going to prove a fact that had been eluding mankind for eons. We were going to disprove our backwards thinking about how to respond to hot weather.
We were going to goose-step stiffly from inside unbending snowsuits around a dusty yard with our arms padded out at 45° angles under a blistering sun while sweat puddled inside our layers of mittens.
I'm really hot, Laura said.
Don't worry about it. It will take a while for our bodies to adjust, and when they do, we'll feel cooler than normal, I answered. I was not entirely sure of that, but that crazy man in the city had not died over several years of summers in his snowsuit, so I was fairly certain we would at least be able to make it back to the house for water before it was too late.
I'm not getting any cooler, Laura whined from where she was marching in circles around a wooden crate. Are you?
Yep, I said, I feel cooler already. I'm cooler than I was before we put all this stuff on. I was not cooler than before we had put all that stuff on, but I did not want to give up on the experiment too quickly. All the people who lived in hot places like Arizona and Africa would love us if this turned out the way I planned. We would maybe even be saving lives!
I don't think we should do this anymore, Laura said.
It's because you're out in the full sun, I said. No one just walks around in circles in the full sun. They do stuff and then go in the shade. It was a very powerful thing to be the head of such an important experiment. I needed to keep the hope and energy going.
But I want to sit down, and I won't be able to get up again if I sit down.
She had presented me with a serious problem that I had not considered. It was the dawning of the 1980s, and Canadian snowsuits were thickly padded and stiff. I owned a pair that could stand up on their own over a hot air vent when they needed to be dried. One good fall, and you were stuck where you were until someone bigger than you came by to pull you up. I gave her problem some thought, helped her over to the shady side of the house, and leaned her against the wooden siding.
Thanks, she said with a sigh. Can we go in soon?
I gave that some thought, too. My Holly Hobby glasses were steaming up in the heat, and my eyes were beginning to sting from the sweat on my eyelids.
Yeah, we'll go in soon. There is something missing with this experiment. I have to figure out what it is before it will work. I looked up at the sky and watched a bird soaring in great swoops on updrafts of hot air. I think it's that we haven't been drinking water. It's got to be the water. I mean, we're already insulated against the heat. The dog plodded over and dropped down with her head in her water bowl. And maybe if we wore the suits but left our heads uncovered. That might be what makes it work, right Laura?
She did not answer, and she was not where I had leaned her up against the house anymore. I toddled over to look for her. She had tipped over and rolled herself into the shadier interior of the wooden crate.
Are we going inside now? she whispered.
Yes, I answered.
I tried to hoist her into an upright position, but that is hard to do when the prone party cannot bend at the waist, so I grabbed hold of the shoulders of her snowsuit and dragged her up the back steps and into the house. We undressed and lied limp and damp on the cool linoleum in the kitchen.
We'll have to do the experiment again, I said. Maybe tomorrow we can try it without hats.
I don't think so, Laura answered.
And then, after that, we can try it while we're drinking water, I said.
No, she said.
And maybe if we wore sandals instead of boots, I pondered aloud.
No, she said.
No, she said again.
I got up off the floor and brought her a glass of water with a bendable straw so that she could drink from her position on the floor.
I'm sorry I almost killed you, I said.
That's okay, she said. You were trying to help the hot people.